I've been impressed with the Coming Out Day essays of the other contributors here at The Bilerico Project, and I wanted to use mine to talk about the people who won't be coming out today.
Silence = Death
From The Body:
Alongside red ribbons, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is probably the most widely recognized symbol of the epidemic. Since the first panel was created in 1986, the entire Quilt had grown by 1996 to include nearly 50,000 individual three-by-six-foot panels covering more than 32 acres.
Designed by lovers, family, friends, and others in honor of one or more persons who died of AIDS-related causes, the colorful panels typically include photos, quotations, and other mementos of the deceased. As a cultural phenomenon, the Quilt recalls the practice of quilt making as a communal activity and evokes the folk traditions of "memory quilts" composed of old clothing, blankets, and other items from different family members. As an educational tool, the Quilt offers an emotionally moving yet unthreatening and, some argue, sanitized focus for HIV/AIDS awareness.
We celebrate our coming out because, for many in the community, coming out is a time when we move beyond the shame of living in the closet to live more fulfilling lives. As a political act, each and every coming out weakens the ideas that all humans are basically heterosexual and that queers are a dangerous and worthless group of people.
At that point, we come together to form communities with varying levels of involvement and bring to those communities different experiences, values, and skills.
In the late 70's gay men began to die from generally non-fatal infections like cat scratch fever. The syndrome was called "gay cancer" and GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency). By 1984, AIDS had been isolated and had the name it has today.
Ronald Reagan's refusal to acknowledge and fight the disease became a major impediment to halting the disease. According to Rep. Henry Waxman in 1985:
It is surprising that the president could remain silent as 6,000 Americans died, that he could fail to acknowledge the epidemic's existence. Perhaps his staff felt he had to, since many of his New Right supporters have raised money by campaigning against homosexuals.
By the time Reagan had even spoken about the issue, 20,849 Americans had died because of the virus.
Silence helped spread this virus, in more forms than the Reagan Administration's complacency. And as people continue to die, a lack of conversations about community health and safe sex continue to take people's lives.
Thinking about the massive death that this virus brought on, one can't avoid the conclusion that the silence around the issue was part of an intentional genocide. Pat Buchanan, then Reagan's communications director, argued that AIDS was "nature's revenge on gay men." And he was far from the only person to be making that claim.
When someone wants to wipe out an ethnicity, letting a virus do that job would appear to be the easiest means to that end. But since homosexuality and bisexuality aren't passed down genetically, wiping out a generation of queers disrupted our culture, retarded our developing political power, and effectively broke continuity between several generations of queers.
And that would be only part of the impact if the virus had stopped, which it hasn't.
I'm posting these panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt because these are people who otherwise could have been alive today. Each loss was tragic at the time and is tragic today. One victim could have continued community organizing in Chicago. Another could have become a schoolteacher. One might have become a creepy guy who would have eyed me in a gay bar. Maybe another could have been a leader in the national LGBT movement. Yet another could have been a Bilerico contributor.
I don't know what contributions to the community these people could have continued to have made. I don't know how they could have affected the lives of younger queers. I don't know how enormously different our lives would be with their contributions to our communities, cultures, and activisms.
This Coming Out Day, I'm coming out for them, because we can't let silence take more lives. I'm coming out for them to help remember their lives. And I'm coming out for them to remind us of the vacuum left on this planet by their absence.
Images from the NAMES Project Foundation. Please take a chance to view more quilt panels and help in their efforts.